AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) Obit Take 2

Last August Gizmodo wrote the obituary for AIM, it turns out they were only 7 months early. With the majority of my old AIM team let go last Friday, the team is down to a handful of engineers, testers and others to maintain the client.  We have seen this story before with the AOL dial up client.  When AOL was put in maintenance mode it kept a few key employees around in case something went wrong.  So here is my obituary for AIM:

AOL Instant Messenger passed away on Friday March 9th after 16 years of complications related to poor management.  As the inventor of many key social features and the inspiration for a few important features in Facebook, AIM was the web’s first social network.  AIM will be remembered by the many who worked on it and it leaves behind many patents that AOL may choose to sell or license.

So AIM’s servers are not getting turned off, there are still a few million using the service but I doubt we see too many new features.  And while Mashable does not declare AIM dead, Christine Warren does touch on where AIM went wrong.  Going back over in my mind we lost our way when we could never convince AOL’s corporate bosses to open up AIM to 3rd party networks until it was too late.

It was a great run for AIM, and all of us who worked on it should be proud of the work we did to change the way we communicate online.

Entrepreneurial Success Happens in Places Other than Silicon Valley

I was struck by an interview that Mark Zuckerberg gave at a Y Combinator event this weekend in which he said that if he were starting Facebook today he would have stayed in Boston.  Zuck talked about how Silicon Valley is “a little short-term focused” and that there’s “a culture in the Valley where people don’t commit to things.”  He brought up an example where in Seattle employees stay at the same company twice as long as the Valley.

Zuck makes some good points, though the stat he quotes from Jeff Bezos about Seattle workers is a misleading number.  Seattle has strong companies that treat their employees well with Amazon and Microsoft.  When companies like Google and Facebook opened up Seattle offices, they were able to recruit top talent from Microsoft and Amazon to those new offices as easily as they did in the Valley.

I do agree with the comments about the Valley being short-term focused.  The company I work for today, Clearspring, which is based in Washington, DC, is a perfect example Valley focus versus non-Valley focus.  Clearspring has had a couple of different acts in its life as a company.  If Clearspring were based in Silicon Valley, odds are the company would have been sold once we shut down our widget business.  Instead our investors remained patient and management focused on the long term, we actually MADE an acquisition, and now are the largest sharing platform on the Internet.

When Zuck talked about Boston it made me nostalgic for the days of AIM and AOL.  Before I started at AOL in 1999, we bought a company based in Boston called Booklink.  Booklink was a browser that eventually became the foundation for the way we would compose and display instant messages in AIM for many years.  The best part of that acquisition were the guys that came with the technology.  A few of them were the original authors of the Windows AIM client.

The point Zuckerberg makes, and the thing I am trying to reinforce is that talent and technology can succeed at any time and any place.  Silicon Valley may be the heart of consumer technologies but life does exist outside that bubble.  Whether Mark really meant what he said about not moving the Valley does not matter, companies like Foursquare, TripAdvisor and Clearspring we thrive no matter where we are.  Success comes down to ideas, people and execution, it does not matter where you are located, and I think that was Mark’s point and I know it is how I feel.

What is old is now here!

Finally, I have rescued all my old blog posts from 2007-2010 and imported them here.  If you are looking for old information on AIM, ICQ, AOL or AIM MusicLink, the posts are all here.  It was a trip going back to read all the things I worked on back then.  By now, Google should have re-crawled my blog and indexed the posts.

Happy surfing down memory lane.

Remembering 9/11

Years ago I wrote a post on AOL Journals about September 11th, 2001 and the memories of the day. While I can’t link to that post anymore since AOL Journals was retired at the end of 2007, I still have the text from the post.

The day started like any other for me.  I got to AOL very early, around 8AM, thanks to living 10 minutes away from the office.  We were preparing for a release, and at that time the AIM build machine was in the QA Lab on the 3rd floor.  To make sure all the builds were kicking off properly I went up to the lab at 830A.  The TV in the lab had The Today Show on and in the next 18 minutes my view of the world was about to change.  The build was long done by the time the second plane hit the World Trade Center, but I was not about to stop watching.  Already shaken up by watching a plane crash into WTC, at about 940A, the fear hit much closer to home as images appeared of an explosion at the Pentagon.  Being directly under the flight path for Dulles where planes landing come over the building at about 500 feet, AOL decided to evacuate the buildings.  Life changed that day for me, as it did for countless others I am sure, but for that hour I was in the QA lab will sit with me forever.

One thing I remember most about that day is how AIM kept everyone connected.  Phone lines were tied up and email did not always work, but people’s online presence on AIM was reassuring to see and to know they were OK.  We heard from users for weeks after the attacks that AIM helped them through that day.

On September 11th, 2011 we need to never forget what happen 10 years ago.

An Old Friend Returns in AIM 6.9

New AIM Logo

New AIM Logo

We pushed live a new AIM build last night that sets the stage for some good things in the near future.  The first change that I am glad to share is that the AIM Running Man is back.  When I started on AIM almost 10 years ago, the running man was the icon for our messaging app and remained so until 2004, now he’s back.  You will see the new running man icon all over the place including OpenAIM, and AOL properties.

AIM 6.9 also takes your AIM buddy feed to the next level by replacing the orange feed indicator icon with the “favicon” of the most recent update.  For example, if I were to upload a picture to Flickr, instead of seeing the old orange icon next to my screen name, you will now see the Flickr favicon.

New Feed Indicator

New Feed Indicator

AIM 6.9 also supports better ways of finding friends and adding new connections in your buddy list via Add Buddy and our first time user experience.

For OpenAIM developers wanting to build plugins for the latest release, we will be doing a new Open AIM SDK in the very near future with the latest API additions that coresponds to the AIM 6.9 release.

OpenAIM Props and other open items

There have been a few newsworthy items over the past week surounding the OpenAIM program.  Seeing articles titled “AOL’s IM Opens Up While Microsoft and Yahoo Hunker Down” makes me feel really good about what I have been building over the past 10 years.  We are almost at OpenAIM 2.0’s one year anniversary, and we continue to innovate in the space where both developers and consumers are going to benefit from AIM’s openness.

In the above article I mentioned, the article discusses Meebo (an OpenAIM 2.0 launch partner) launching Facebook Chat integration inside  OpenAIM gets a nice nod a couple of paragraphs later when the discussion moves to messaging services opening up.

Gradually AOL’s AIM network began to get in on the action, first with Open AIM 1.0 (which really wasn’t open at all, as it was primarily concerned with plugins and status updates) and later in 2008 with Open AIM 2.0. The second iteration of Open AIM offers third party web services like Meebo and native clients like Adium a sanctioned way to access the network.

We want to continue to reach out to the development community to give them the best in breed tools so AIM users have the best experience online whether it be via our flagship AIM Windows client or on iChat or on Meebo.

A Lite Story

A few people have been asking me about AIM Lite as it has been over a year since we last did a release.  I wanted to take this opportunity to clear up some stuff with AIM Lite.  The idea of a light-weight AIM client pre-dates my 9+ years at AOL, by a few months, but it really came to surface in the winter of 2006 during the AIM Triton project.

When we created AIM Lite it was done as an exercise to improve the architecture that was used to connect Open AIM to the user interface elements.  Things like displaying IMs, rendering 1000 buddies in a Buddy List, and composing IMs were improved in AIM Lite.  Now much of that knowledge resides in the AIM client, and has been available to everyone since last year’s AIM 6.5 release.

AIM Lite also gave birth to a feature everyone benefited from in June of 2008.  AIM Lite featured a type of AIM Plugin called AIM Widgets (AWI).  These AIM Widgets led us to developing AIM Modules, which are a super set of AWIs in functionality and features.

I can’t say we will never touch the AIM Lite code base again, and for those who still use AIM Lite, we have no plans to decommission it either.  Hopefully this clears up any misconceptions behind AIM Lite, and if you are looking for a simple AIM experience, check out the AIM Express client.  The best part is that there is no download for the client, as long as Flash 9 is installed.

Managing your AIM Buddy Feeds

A lot of users have been asking me about the AIM Buddy Feed that appears in the Buddy Info window.  Some people are wondering how to turn off their buddy feed, while others are wondering if they can do more with it.  First, lets look at where the Buddy Feed appears in the AIM client.

When your buddy has a new feed item an orange icon will appear next to their name:

If you click that icon, it will open up the buddy info window for that user.  You will see something like this:

The area circled in red is the AIM Buddy Feed.  In this area your friends can see what plugins you have installed or if you have updated your AIM Profile.

For those that want to turn off AIM Buddy Feeds, skip the next two paragraphs.

If you are reading this you want to know more of what you can do with your AIM Buddy Feeds.  Our buddy feeds allow you to share with your buddies stuff you are doing outside of AIM and AOL.  If you are on Twitter, Flickr or MySpace you can add those accounts into your AIM Buddy Feed.  The way to modify or manage your feed is to use our Manage Feeds page.

If you are a developer, and are wondering if there is a way to get your content into AIM Buddy Feeds, the answer is “of course!”  In the latest Open AIM SDK available on the Open AIM website, you can access the IAccBuddyFeedManager and create a new IAccBuddyFeed item.  Then using the BuddyFeedManager, you can Push that new item.

If you want to manage the privacy for your own AIM Buddy Feed, you can do this in the AIM client by opening your Preferences and choosing the Privacy tab.  There are checkboxes at the bottom of that dialog for you to check or uncheck.

Sometimes I just like to view all of my friend’s feeds at one time on one page, and we have that too.  We also have a page that consolidates all of your feeds so you can what you are doing .

AIM MusicLink is here

I have posted the latest version of AIM MusicLink, version  If you are an existing AIM MusicLink user, you will get prompted for auto upgrade.  You can ignore the upgrade, or get it later.  You can get an upgrade via the Check For Upgrade button via the AIM MusicLink Preference window.  You will only be prompted once.  There are some real key feature and bug fixes in this release.

  • AIM MusicLink now supports an option to set your status in “Artist – Song” format and “Song – Artist” format.
  • Fixed a long standing bug with Windows Media Player not reporting the correct song.  This was due to an issue with the Windows Media Player API passing incorrect data in the MediaChange event.  I discovered a work around this Microsoft bug.
  • Fixed bug with RealPlayer song status being set with a missing leading character
  • Fixed bug with Uninstaller not unregistering the AIM MusicLink dlls.

Here is a screen shot of the new preference panel showing how to change the status format.

AIM MusicLink Preferences

AIM MusicLink Preferences

You can download the latest AIM MusicLink here.

To read all about AIM MusicLink or to get questions answered make sure to visit the AIM MusicLink homepage.

AIM for Mac Beta3

On Tuesday we posted the latest AIM for Mac client, Beta3, on our beta website.  AIM for Mac was first released a month ago, and in that time we have made a bunch of changes.  The application is built on top of the Open AIM Cocoa framework that is available as part of the Open AIM Mac SDK.  Here are some highlighted changes in Beta 3:

  • Redesigned Buddy List header area and added Quick Status and Away toggle
  • Find Buddy search box is now toggled using the magnifying glass icon
  • Will now auto-format phone numbers so users can send IMs to SMS text message capable phones**
  • Fixed issue for Tiger users to correctly display status messages on the Buddy List
  • Preference window will now remember size/screen position
  • Fixed auto-accept file transfer preferences when user closes and reopens application

You can download AIM for Mac Beta 3 here.

As always we appreciate feedback on how this client is coming along.

** – I find it interesting that Google Talk launched IM to SMS as a very very burried feature in GTalk today.  It will be 5 years on December 17th this year that we released IM to SMS for AIM.  I along with our mobile team in Seattle and our AIM Host team in Dulles brought this great feature to the client oh so many years ago.